The Clean Sheet: Bridging the gap

what several of the players said about getting drafted.

No, I'm not talking about every player saying they "just want to help the team," or Real Salt Lake's top pick, 11-year-old wunderkind Nik Besagno, wondering if RSL practices will end in time to get home to see "Bob The Builder" every day.

What really got me was hearing a kid say he is excited to play for the team he "grew up supporting." As MLS enters its second decade, this is huge. The first true proof of the next generation of MLS supporters.

For MLS to have long-term success, really long-term success, it was crucial to provide young kids with role models and a league to look up to and want to play in one day. Fans who were already old enough to drive, vote or whatever were either going to like soccer or not, and frankly you just can't convince too many of those who don't, hard as you may try. Kind of like the media -- certain sports editors just will never like soccer, so you just need to wait for them to quit or die. Don't worry, I'm allowed to say that, writers have been wishing death upon editors for years.

But the kids are the key. MLS needed (and needs) young kids to grow up watching their hometown team and wanting to play for them one day. They need to want to watch Carlos Ruiz play, and then strive to take his job one day. Whether they make it or not isn't the point, it's that buy-in as a supporter that they will keep for life, an inherent care about their local side.

So with that, it seems that we are really seeing that true next generation emerge. These kids grew up supporting their hometown teams, and now some of them get to play with the big boys. But more importantly, we are seeing that next generation of fan, the fan that relied on mom and dad to take them to a game, but are now getting to the point where they can take themselves (and a date, assuming they don't look like me).

Now I know this sounds a bit rah-rah and all, which is not normally my cuppa tea, but this landmark is worth pulling up and taking a look at. The questions surrounding MLS publicly are usually no longer of viability, but of growing the league's fan base.

It would seem that a crucially key component of doing so is slowly beginning to take root.

***

THE NEWS: ChampionsWorld files Chapter 11 bankruptcy.

TCS SAYS: For those who do not know, ChampionsWorld is the company that puts on the annual summer tours featuring Manchester United and other international teams. The company's chief exec is former Metros boss Charlie Stillitano.

I've already received e-mails both celebrating and bemoaning the move, so I feel like I need to throw in my two cents. Before I go on, anything I say here is purely my opinion, as I did not speak to anyone at the company.

First and foremost, the facts: Filing Chapter 11 does not mean the company is going out of business. Please understand that. Many companies operate for very long periods of time in Chapter 11, it is a strategy to restructure and refocus the business operations.

So now that the demise of ChampionsWorld has been greatly exaggerated, let me also pull up and comment on your comments.

My quick take is that for those of you who thought that ChampionsWorld going out of business was good news as a fan of MLS, I don't get you at all. The company identified a niche and exploited it, and yes they did beat MLS to the punch a bit -- so good for them.

That said, there were several questions regarding the viability of the company, which apparently brings in big revenues, but does so at some seriously significant costs. But enough boring business talk.

I am going to almost un-realistically over-simplify this situation with a very basic idea: it would seem that the long quietly-rumored possibility of MLS (or actually its subsidiary, Soccer United Marketing) buying out ChampionsWorld may be a good thing for all parties if it were to take place in the near future.

There is a huge market for bringing in the international teams, and it is time to get MLS teams involved in some of these exhibitions. It is easy to sit here in front of a keyboard on Planet LA and conduct mergers and acquisitions on paper, but I do hope that there is some sort of partnership or arrangement on the horizon that would ensure a steady dose of great international teams touring the States for years to come, but not without matching their skills against the best that MLS has to offer.

ChampionsWorld had a great product, now it seems the time may be right for a partnership to bring it under the MLS/SUM umbrella. Unless Manchester United is just scared of my beloved FC Dallas, which I completely understand.

THE NEWS: Trivia -- which MLS owner was thanked at the Golden Globes last weekend?

TCS SAYS: The answer, none other than Phil Anschutz himself, who was on the receiving end of some serious love from it-actor Jamie Foxx, who was recognized for his role in "Ray."

THE NEWS: I thought the Chicago Fire fans, who have visited The Home Depot Center were the most annoying people ever to set foot in the hallowed ground.

TCS SAYS: That was until I saw a recent television commercial for Chevy trucks shot at the HDC starring none other than Howie Long. Yup, just him and a bunch of trucks driving all over the HDC field (not sure which bothered me more). Worst part about it: unlike the Radio Shack spots he's done, there wasn't even an appearance by Desperately-hot Teri Hatcher.

TCS SAYS: Another clean sheet Wednesday for Tim Howard as Manchester United knock off tiny Exeter City in the FA Cup.

THE NEWS: Another reason to thank the man upstairs for Fox Sports World (soon to be Fox Soccer Channel), this game is exactly what all the backers of the U.S. Open Cup are dreaming about. To catch you up, Exeter City is a tiny, non-league team that went to Old Trafford and came away with an "are-you-kidding-me?" draw, albeit against a second-choice United side. In the replay Wednesday at little St. James's Park (great little ground -- was actually at a game there back in the early '90s) United went up early then staved off some nice chances by the feisty home side before a late goal iced it 2-0 for Howard's team. That, my friends, is what the FA Cup is all about.

Not lost in the story though, is another shutout for Howard, who was on U.S. television for the second time in four days after his "60 Minutes" story aired Sunday night. Howard is still second choice to Roy Carroll, who must have some compromising pictures of Sir Alex Ferguson somewhere.

THE NEWS: Cory Gibbs leaves FC Dallas for Feyenoord in Holland.

TCS SAYS: While I frankly do not understand why any player would ever want to leave the greatest club in the world (I hear Brad Davis is on suicide watch), this one had been rumored for a while.

THE NEWS: San Jose is about to re-acquire Ronald Cerritos.

TCS SAYS: Going back to the club of his glory days worked wonders for Jaime Moreno, who was reborn last year with D.C. United. Will Cerritos rediscover his form back in San Jose? The Quakes faithful will hope so, but he has a long way to come from some pretty poor performances in D.C. last season.

THE NEWS: Kasey Keller finally leaves Spurs, signing with Borussia Moenchengladbach on an 18-month deal.

TCS SAYS: Kasey says he has 3-4 years left (he's 35) and I believe him. Do the math and a year and a half from now, it could just fall into place that he would be the first goalkeeper for Major League Soccer's Seattle Sounders.

***

FLICK-ONS:

Just wondering: is the Jim Duggan who is looking to bring an MLS team to Detroit former WWF wrestling superstar "Hacksaw" Jim Duggan? How great would it be to see an MLS owner parading the sidelines with a two-by-four. OK, that was my annual wrestling geek comment. See you next year, tusslin' fans.

Congrats to Mark McCullers, who had the "interim" taken off his general manager title in Columbus. By the way, smart move dumping Jeff Cunningham -- the Crew are going to play the same style of ball as last season, Cunningham clearly did not fit in and obviously can't do any worse than Colorado's offense last season.

In case you were concerned, Sir Alex Ferguson and Arsene Wenger have agreed to a cease-fire in their war of words. Now for the love of all that is holy, could one of you please not let Chelsea win the title?

The Clean Sheet runs each Thursday on MLSnet.com. Views and opinions expressed in this column views and opinions are the author's, and not necessarily those of Major League Soccer or its clubs. Send any questions and comments to tcsresponses@yahoo.com.


To report a comment, mouseover or touch the comment and then click/touch the flag icon (Flag).